Manchester United eye passage to Champions League last 16

Updated: 21 November 2011 18:14 IST

In possession of a vast array of attacking talent, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is likely to instead rely on his obdurate defense to seal his team's place in the last 16 of the Champions League for the sixth year in a row.

Manchester United eye passage to Champions League last 16

London:

In possession of a vast array of attacking talent, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is likely to instead rely on his obdurate defense to seal his team's place in the last 16 of the Champions League for the sixth year in a row.

Since the 6-1 thrashing by archrivals Manchester City in the Premier League last month, United's adventurous attacking play has taken a back seat with the team winning five straight games without conceding.

With confidence restored, the English champions can guarantee a top-two finish in Group C by beating Benfica at home on Tuesday.

"We've gone back to basics and defended really well since City," United winger Ryan Giggs said. "It wasn't just the goals against City (that concerned United), it was also the chances that were being created against us in the other games.

"Solidity is something we have always prided ourselves on, at the back and throughout the team really."

Thanks to back-to-back 2-0 wins over Romanian champions Otelul Galati, United have climbed to the top of the group and are level on points with Benfica with two matches left.

The pair are three points ahead of Basel, who visit Otelul on Tuesday looking for a victory that would put the Swiss team right in contention for qualification.

United's gung-ho attitude in the first two months of the season provided rich entertainment but left the defense and new goalkeeper David de Gea far too open.

Ferguson acknowledged he has made a conscious effort to shore up his defense in recent matches and the return to fitness of captain Nemanja Vidic couldn't have come at a better time.

Allowing free-scoring City to take over as England's biggest entertainers is a price United has had to pay but defensive midfielder Michael Carrick is unconcerned.

"It's about winning games," Carrick said. "We haven't been at our best but there'll be a point in the season when everything will come easily.

"We'll score some more goals because of the talent in our team. We believe we can do that, but at this time it is about grafting, sticking together and showing a lot of character."

Four points from United's last two group matches will secure top spot in the group for a team that has won Europe's elite club competition three times, and was runner-up last season when it lost to Barcelona at Wembley.

"The most important thing is to qualify but it is always that little bonus if you are top because then you avoid the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona," said Ferguson.

Striker Michael Owen and midfielder Tom Cleverley are out injured but left back Patrice Evra, who has had a virus, trained on Monday.

England striker Wayne Rooney was missing from the training session but hasn't been ruled out of the match.

Benfica are top after 10 matches in the Portuguese league, which had last weekend off, and had the better of the 1-1 draw with United in Lisbon in September.

History is against Benfica, though, with United unbeaten at home in 10 games against Portuguese sides.

Topics : Football Ajax Everton Wayne Rooney Alex Ferguson Chelsea Arsenal Barcelona Manchester United Benfica
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